Aug. 17, 1998 Aviation authorities from the United Kingdom have given final regulatory approval to The Insitu Group of Bingen, Wash., and the University of Washington to attempt the first transatlantic crossing by an autonomous aircraft.
The first of up to three flight attempts will be made at the earliest fair-weather opportunity from Sunday, Aug. 16, onward. Flights are planned to start at Bell Island Airport in St. John's, Newfoundland, and land at the Benbecula Military Range on South Uist of the Outer Hebrides Islands of Scotland. The crossing will cover about 3,200 kilometers, or nearly 2,000 miles, and is expected to take about 24 hours.
Plans have been uncertain for a week after the initial proposal to land in Ireland was turned down by the Irish Aviation Authority. However, officials with the United Kingdom National Air Traffic Service, Civil Aviation Authority and Defence Evaluation and Research Agency Hebrides Ranges stepped in to arrange the Outer Hebrides landing site.
Work is being completed this week on the three Aerosonde airplanes that are slated for the transatlantic flight attempts. The planes - which weigh 29 pounds and have 10-foot wingspans - will be taken by support crews to the launch and landing sites this week in preparation for the flights. If successful, the transatlantic crossing will help to demonstrate that miniature robotic aircraft are practical for weather reconnaissance over the oceans. Sponsors for the transatlantic flights include The Boeing Co. and L-3 Communications, Conic Division.
The Aerosonde has been developed by Insitu and Environmental Systems and Services of Melbourne, Australia - with support from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology - for reconnaissance to improve weather forecasting. Insitu now is working with the University of Washington Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, under sponsorship from the Office of Naval Research, to develop a trial Aerosonde weather reconnaissance program off the west coast of the United States.
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